“I’ll surprise him!” murmured Nella-Rose, with the dimples in full play at the corners of her mouth; “old Jim White can’t keep me away. I’ll watch out—it’s just for a minute; I’ll be back by sundown; it will be only to say ‘how-de?’”
Something argued with the girl as she ran on—something quite new and uncontrolled. Heretofore no law but that of the wilds had entered into her calculations. To get what she could of happiness and life—to make as little fuss as possible—that had been her code; but now, the same restraint that had held Marg from going to the Hollow awhile back, when she thought that, with night, Burke Lawson might disclose his whereabouts, held Nella-Rose! So insistent was the rising argument that it angered the girl. “Why? Why?” her longings and desires cried. “Because! Because!” was the stern response, and the woman in Nella-Rose thrilled and throbbed and trembled, while the girlish spirit pleaded for the excitement of joy and sweetness that was making the grim stretches of her narrow existence radiant and full of meaning.
On she went doggedly. The dimples disappeared; the mouth fell into the pathetic, drooping lines that by and by, unless something saved Nella-Rose, would become permanent and mark her as a hill-woman—one to whom soul visions were denied.
Wisdom had all but conquered Nella-Rose’s folly when she came in sight of Calvin Merrivale’s store. But—who knows?—perhaps the girl’s story had been written long since, and she was not entirely free. Be that as it may, she paused, for no reason whatever as far as she could tell, and carefully took one dozen eggs from the basket and hid them under some bushes by the road! Having done this she went forward so blithely and lightly that one might have thought her load had been considerably eased. She appeared before Calvin Merrivale, presently, like a refreshing apparition from vacancy. It was high noon and Merrivale was dozing in a chair by the rusty stove, in which a fire, prepared against the evening chill, was already burning.
“How-de, Mister Merrivale?” Calvin sprang to his feet.
“If it ain’t lil’ Nella-Rose. How’se you-all?”
“Right smart. I’ve brought you three dozen eggs and ten pounds of pork.” Nella-Rose almost said po’k—not quite! “And you must be mighty generous with me when you weigh out—let me see!—oh, yes, pepper, salt, and sugar.”
“I’ll lay a siftin’ more in the scale, Nella-Rose, on ‘count o’ yo’ enjoyin’ ways. But I can’t make this out”—he was counting the eggs—“yo’ said three dozen aigs?”
“Three dozen, and ten pounds of pork!” This very firmly.
Merrivale counted again and as he did so Nella-Rose remembered! The red came to her face—the tears to her ashamed eyes.
“Stop!” she said softly, going close to the old man. “I forgot. I took one dozen out!”